2020 has been stressful for trees and shrubs. Our lilac bushes are in bloom. It’s October.
I remember when autumn colors took my breath away. Stunning reds, yellows, greens and browns spread out across the other side of the lake.
It wasn’t breath-taking this year as I jogged along the state park trail.
The trees seemed sparse. More than last year. The yellow, brown and green colors were subdued or muted, as if the forest had one hella year like the rest of us. This side of the lake, tree damage from the derecho is everywhere. As winter approaches uncertainty abounds.
One hopes for catharsis on Nov. 3 yet I don’t know. Ticket sales from Broadway performances in New York have been suspended until May 2021. It seems like forever until then.
Without an anemometer it was difficult to know wind speed during Monday’s derecho. In Cedar Rapids wind speeds approached 100 miles per hour.
The last major storm of straight-line winds in 2013 caused more damage to our property than the derecho. Both were bad.
I watched the storm come in until it got so virulent we headed to our safe place on the lower level. The kitchen clock stopped at 12:34 p.m., Monday, Aug. 10. Electricity was restored at 10:14 a.m., Friday, Aug. 14, the longest outage since we moved here.
Derechos may not be as well known as hurricanes or tornadoes, but these rare storms can be just as powerful and destructive. Primarily seen in late spring and summer in the central and eastern United States, derechos produce walls of strong wind that streak across the landscape, leaving hundreds of miles of damage in their wake. On August 10, 2020, a derecho swept across the Midwest from South Dakota to Ohio, traveling 770 miles in 14 hours and knocking out power for more than a million people.
The term derecho—which means “straight ahead” in Spanish—was coined in 1888 by Gustavus Hinrichs, a physics professor at the University of Iowa who sought to distinguish these straight-moving winds from the swirling gusts of a tornado. Though the term disappeared from use shortly afterward, meteorologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) resurrected it a hundred years later. It entered the public lexicon in 2012, when one of the most destructive derechos in history swept across roughly 700 miles from Ohio to the mid-Atlantic coast, killing 22 people and causing serious damage in metropolitan areas, including Chicago and Washington, D.C.
NOAA officially defines a derecho as “a widespread, long-lived windstorm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms.” For a swath of storms to be classified as a derecho, it must travel at least 240 miles and move at speeds of at least 58 miles an hour, though the winds are often more powerful. The August 2020 Midwest derecho had winds up to 112 miles an hour.
I have more to say about this storm and the damage it did. Suffice it for now the storm hit hard the trees I’ve grown from saplings. The Pin Oak took the brunt of the wind damage, the windward side losing several of its main branches. The Red Delicious apple tree lost a major limb, the Locust tree blew completely over demolishing the most productive part of the summer garden. Half of the pear crop shook loose from the tree dropping unusable green fruit. Among the wreckage on the ground I found a single Earliblaze apple. I hadn’t noticed we had any apples this year. I ate the apple on the spot. It was delicious (apple joke).
We survived the storm with no damage to our house. I watched the portable greenhouse shake loose four 50-pound buckets of sand, lift into the air, and tumble off into a neighbor’s yard, destroyed. Without electricity I couldn’t can the tomato harvest so I donated 25 pounds to the local food rescue operation.
We are now veterans of two major wind events and developed a process to cope with the aftermath.
Because of the long electricity outage, we became owners of a Craftsman generator which we used to keep the freezer and refrigerator running, as well as to charge devices, run computers, operate a floor fan, and heat water. We plan to keep it.
We had the septic tank pumped for additional capacity in case of an extended electrical outage. The septic service showed up just as electricity was restored.
We hired a U.S. military veteran from Alabama to help cut damaged branches from the Pin Oak. The yard is filled with fallen branches waiting for me to cut them up for firewood or for burning. A big portion of the fallen Locust tree remains on the garden. I’m not sure when I’ll get to that.
I didn’t realize it at the time but the clouds in this photo are the front edge of the derecho blowing in. It will be a while before we recover. We will recover.
The climate crisis continues in the coronavirus pandemic.
The pandemic with its economic downturn threatens years of progress addressing climate change and sustainability. It’s now or never for the environment.
Governments are expected to spend trillions of dollars in stimulus to get the economy going again. Addressing the climate crisis can’t wait. Climate solutions must be integrated with stimulus spending.
“We now have a unique opportunity to use (the economic crisis) to do things differently and build back better economies that are more sustainable, resilient and inclusive.” said Saadia Zahidi, World Economic Forum managing director.
WEF warned that “omitting sustainability criteria in recovery efforts or returning to an emissions-intensive global economy risks hampering the climate resilient low-carbon transition.”
Sustainability should be integrated into recovery efforts because the health crisis, economy, and environment are inextricably connected. There is only one chance to manage this recovery. Trillions can be spent only once. Given the scope of the climate crisis, its pressing urgency, society must choose to address the climate crisis now.
The International Energy Agency has ideas on how to do that. They developed a 174-page essay titled “Sustainable Recovery.” However, no single solution applies to global matters. We need multiple solutions implemented synchronously.
Global carbon dioxide emissions reduced by 17 percent in April as people sheltered at home, industry reduced production, and automobile use slowed. Since then, emission levels surged back. A conscious decision to integrate smart energy use into the recovery is needed. The issue has been politicized so thoroughly it seems doubtful any such action will be taken in the United States. One is being political whether they say something about climate change or not when discussing the economic recovery. We must persist in demanding a solution.
Fiona Harvey, environmental correspondent for the Guardian reported, “The world has only six months in which to change the course of the climate crisis and prevent a post-lockdown rebound in greenhouse gas emissions that would overwhelm efforts to stave off climate catastrophe.”
No one knows how long we have. It’s common sense that stimulus money could be used in a holistic way. Ideas are out there. What’s lacking is political will.
That few in our government talk about addressing the climate crisis as we “open up” the economy is part of the problem. Oil and gas interests have so infiltrated our government politicians don’t want to hear about solar or wind generated energy, even if they are the least expensive and least damaging regarding carbon dioxide emissions.
Think about it though. When has doing what makes sense gotten so politically out of fashion? Among other things, that needs to change.
Al Gore recently said, “Moving forward from COVID-19 means we have an obligation to rethink the relationships among business, markets, government and society. We must deliver a sustainable form of capitalism.”
That’s not going to happen without a change in our government.
People ask me how I plan to address the climate crisis. My answer?
It’s time to stand up for what is needed in our country right now: moral revival and transformative change. That means voting for Democrats in November.
Postscript: Since I wrote this post Joe Biden released his plan to ensure the future is “‘Made in All of America’ by all of America’s workers.” The word climate is mentioned once in a paragraph to “apply a carbon adjustment fee against countries that are failing to meet their climate and environmental obligations.” I support Biden for president and encourage readers to read his Made in America plan here. Like any plan it will be subject to modification if Biden is elected president. One modification I expect is to integrate addressing the climate crisis in the plan.
As the coronavirus pandemic runs its course, governments are expected to spend trillions of dollars in stimulus to get the economy going again.
It’s now or never for the environment. Sustainability should be integrated into recovery plans because the health crisis, the economy and the environment are inextricably connected. There is only one chance to manage this recovery to improve environmental sustainability. There are only so many times trillions can be spent to jump start the economy. Sustainability must be considered and become part of any stimulus plan.
People have ideas on how to do that. The International Energy Agency developed a 174-page essay titled “Sustainable Recovery.” They revised “should” to “could” when recommending the plan, as a step toward political correctness in presentation. Sadly, no single logic applies to global matters. One is being political whether they say something about climate change or not when discussing the recovery.
Global carbon dioxide emissions reduced by 17 percent in April as people sheltered at home, industry reduced production, and automobile use slowed. Since then, emission levels are surging back. A conscious decision to integrate smart energy use into the recovery is needed. The issue has been politicized so thoroughly it seems doubtful any such action will be taken in the United States.
Fiona Harvey, environmental correspondent for the Guardian reported, “The world has only six months in which to change the course of the climate crisis and prevent a post-lockdown rebound in greenhouse gas emissions that would overwhelm efforts to stave off climate catastrophe, one of the world’s foremost energy experts has warned.”
No one know how long we have. It’s common sense we will spend stimulus money in the quantities planned only once. Ideas are out there. What’s lacking is political will.
The fact that almost no one is talking about addressing the climate crisis as we “open up” the economy is part of the problem. Oil and gas interests have so infiltrated our government politicians don’t want to hear about solar or wind generated energy, even if they are the least expensive and least damaging regarding carbon dioxide emissions.
Think about it though. When has doing what makes sense gotten so politically out of fashion? Among other things, that needs to change.
The shoreline was exposed as I crossed Coralville Lake to secure provisions.
While it looks like we are in a drought, it is better to say we are ready for extra water coming from upstream snow melt and spring rains flowing into the Mississippi River basin.
Lake water level is decided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a function of their plan to mitigate flood damage. The experience was a reminder ours is a built environment.
I stopped at a chain drug store and at the wholesale club to stock up. I’ve been donning a mask and going shopping every other week during the pandemic. Most other people inside retail establishments wear masks. If I didn’t want dairy products or were vegan I’d go to town less often, maybe once a month.
We harvest something daily from the garden. This morning it was spinach. With a spring share from the farm, I’m getting backed up on greens. It’s time to make vegetable broth for canning. I’ll carry six quarts over from last season and want 20 quarts on the shelf to make it through another year. Broth has become a pantry staple. I use it to cook rice, make a roux, and add flavor to soup.
In addition to making broth, today’s work will be preparing the main tomato bed for planting. That means to spade lanes in the plot, rototill the lanes, rake the surface smooth, lay garden cloth on the surface and put enough grass clippings on top to hold it down until the seedlings are in. I’m short of grass clippings for mulch but tomatoes are a high priority and will take the entire stockpile.
My creativity is at a low level and I’m not sure why. Partly it is the coronavirus pandemic, partly something else. Perhaps I’m simply enjoying this glorious spring weather — the part before insects begin foraging every living plant. Spring serves as fit distraction for what ails us. One can do a lot worse than spring.
Pollinators came in abundance and did their work. Now it’s snowing flower petals.
The collapse of insect populations is a well-documented phenomenon. 40 percent of insect species are threatened with extinction, due mostly to habitat loss by conversion to intensive agriculture. Agricultural chemical pollutants, invasive species and climate change are additional causes, according to Biological Conservation.
In our yard insect populations find a home, begin doing their work, and cause trouble in the garden almost as soon as freezing temperatures abate. They are relentless. Humans should be so relentless.
Because of insects our yard has a bird population. They nest in the fruit trees and lilac bushes. They perch everywhere there is something upon which to stand. It’s easy to find them chasing insects through the air. It’s for the birds and insects I use no weed killers or lawn fertilizers and let the grass go to seed.
We are an island in a sea of agriculture. When wheat is harvested Japanese beetles head to property like ours where they feed on certain types of vegetation. Corn and soybean harvests result in visits of additional species of displaced insects. It is important to consider the world outside our property lines as insects know few boundaries and what farmers do a section of two over impacts us.
The first white butterfly flew around the cruciferous vegetables yesterday. They lay eggs on foliage which hatch and produce green worms that eat said foliage. It didn’t take long after planting for the butterfly to show up.
I observed a number of bee species during the pear tree pollination. Dandelions are an excellent source of early pollen for bees so I let them go. A large bumble bee lumbered through the air, laden with pollen, and flew through an opening in the chicken wire mesh around a garden plot.
The pear tree is being pollinated as I type this post. If pears form this year there will be another struggle with Japanese beetles over the fruit. Last year we lost the whole crop to the pests.
I went out to the garden before sunrise to see if I could catch the culprit eating my Pak Choy. In order to defend against bugs they need to be identified. I shone the light on my mobile phone but couldn’t find it today.
I turned to the arugula which reaching maturity. I returned to the garage, got a colander, a pair of scissors, and a knee pad, and pulled back the fencing to harvest a big bunch. I removed an insect, cleaned it and put it away in the ice box.
When I returned from a shift at the farm I made a lunch using this process:
Add two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to a large bowl. Add a teaspoon of lemon juice, tablespoon of home made apple cider vinegar and finely minced spring garlic. Salt and pepper to taste. Whisk until incorporated. Fill a serving bowl with arugula and dump it into the larger bowl. Toss gently until the leaves are coated. Return the salas to the serving bowl. Sprinkle feta cheese on top and serve.
I noted the 50th anniversary of Earth Day with a letter to the editor.
“That’s it?” I asked myself this morning.
Next I reminded myself the essential environmental task between now and the general election is to remove as many Republicans as possible from office nationally, in Iowa, and locally.
When I attended Al Gore’s slideshow presentations and the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training I held certain assumptions about how government would work. What may have been isn’t or has been tossed out the window in the time of Donald Trump’s political leadership.
When I say we should “Act on Climate” it means getting involved in politics to elect people who will address the climate crisis. None of us can do much alone.
Our choices are few but to do the work of getting people to vote. Six months from the election Democrats can feel the wind at our backs. Nonetheless it will be a hard sail to shore and a foundation on which we can begin to face the challenges of the climate crisis more directly.
I helped organize my home town for the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970.
Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders’ Dec. 24, 1968 Earthrise photograph changed the way we look at our lives. We became aware of the fragility of human society spinning through the void of space.
As we complete the 50th year since then, society changed.
The Environmental Protection Agency was created in December 1970. The Republican president led an effort to protect our natural environment through legislation including The Clean Air Act (1970), The Clean Water Act (1972), The Endangered Species Act (1973), and more. These laws made positive things possible.
50 years later our government seems ready to throw all that in the ditch because it is too much of a burden for business. Powerful interests infiltrated our government. Corporations write environmental laws that protect their interests first, rather than the common good. A form of nationalism is rising which says, “Put America first.”
We live in a global society in which we are intimately connected, as Anders’ photo suggests. Large American companies manage a global supply chain and produce much of their revenue in other countries. We are connected as the current pandemic suggests: the coronavirus does not recognize national borders.
We must transcend nationalism and consider the best interests of everyone. We must lead in a way only the United States can. On the first Earth Day we thought that was possible.
I hope it still is.
~ Published in the Solon Economist on April 16, 2020.
It should be no shocker that I attended a political event on Saturday. How could I miss it? It was six miles from our house.
State Senator Liz Mathis represents the 34th Senate District in the Iowa legislature. Alongside State Representative Molly Donahue, who represents House District 68, they hosted a legislative listening post at the Ely Public Library.
The closer one gets to Cedar Rapids, the more likely we are to encounter kolaches, a traditional semi-sweet roll originating in the Czech heritage of Iowa’s second largest city. Mathis pointed out the box of kolaches in the back of the meeting room soon after my arrival. About 16 people attended.
I was in graduate school in Iowa City when Mathis began her broadcast news career at KWWL at their then new Cedar Rapids bureau. She has been a broadcast anchor, television producer, college professor, and is currently an executive at the non-profit organization Four Oaks Family and Children Services. Donahue has been a teacher for 30 years with a current focus on secondary students in special education or those who have behavior disorders that can affect their learning. They were well qualified to discuss Iowa’s mental health system, school safety, the K-12 education budget, the school bus driver shortage, and related topics. I listened and tried to learn.
News on Friday was Pattison Sand Company of Clayton sought to extract 34 million gallons of water per year over a ten-year period from the Jordan Aquifer, according to Perry Beeman of Iowa Capitol Dispatch. The water would be shipped by rail to arid regions in the American west, potentially to New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Arizona or California. The Jordan Aquifer is also the source of municipal water for the city of Marion which lies within Mathis’ senate district.
Earlier this month Pattison proposed to extract 2 billion gallons per year from the Jordan Aquifer using wells they drilled to support their frack sand mining operation. This proposal was rejected by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
The problem with tapping the Jordan Aquifer is it is prehistoric water, in other words, it has been there a long time. The aquifer does not recharge at the same rate as the Silurian Aquifer which lies on top of it. Once the Jordan Aquifer is drained, the water will be gone and communities that currently rely upon it could be left without a reliable water source.
The climate crisis is evident in the American west. Demand for water exceeds the region’s capacity to produce it through rainfall, snow melt, and underground aquifers. Something’s got to give for people who settled there to survive. Mining and shipping water from Eastern Iowa is not a good idea because what may be abundant to meet our current needs will be diminished by the extraction proposed by Pattison and others. It is easy to see how a discussion over water rights could escalate into regional conflict over this basic human need.
If we look at history, humans have continued to exploit natural resources until they are gone, in many cases leading to the collapse of societies. Our brains are not wired to perceive the threat shipping billions of gallons of water from Iowa to the west could have. We have to pay attention, and the role of government is to look out for the common good.
It is hard to image an overall plan to resolve the climate crisis at its root causes. Further exploitation of natural resources doesn’t solve anything and could potentially make matters worse. At least we were discussing it and in doing so raising awareness on a sunny morning in Ely over kolaches.
The driver delivering pallets of yard and landscaping stone, peat moss, and dirt said his spring deliveries are running about two weeks behind last year.
We just finished our annual inventory at the home, farm and auto supply store and are ready for incoming freight of garden supplies, utility trailers, wheelbarrows, fertilizer, three-point farm equipment, and the like. I unloaded a pallet of 50-pound bags of seed potatoes. The greenhouse will be installed in the parking lot next week. Spring seemed late to our suppliers but it’s almost here.
It’s more like we didn’t have a winter.
In a retail warehouse we notice the seasonality of commerce. Shelves fill with mowers, trimmers, blowers, chain saws and tillers. We received two tall pallets of box fans. Large ceramic pots were shipped in crates from Mexico. We have a delightful collection of ceramic and metal rooster art. This entire post could be a repetition of inbound inventory processed during my two days per week part time job. I have something else in mind.
The intersection of commerce, private lives, spirituality and society is where we spend most of our lives. In time, if we are lucky and talented, we create a process of living that ensures our survival. In Eastern Iowa it is pretty straightforward how one secures food, shelter and clothing: seek training and then work as a skilled professional, an entrepreneur, or for someone else. There is no guarantee of success but most people in my circle make it, including those who are forced to live in their cars because they are poor, or who sleep on someone’s couch for a while due to physical abuse at home. We live a privileged life despite the real problems people have.
There is a sense our process of living, for lack of a better description, is built by us, for us, and there is separation from what others do. That’s okay. If we have more in common than we believe, the articulation of a life can be a conscious effort with variations in the use of materials from a mass society. We make something of our selves. Such a process may seem individualistic, bordering on taking care of “me only,” but it is intertwined with the fate of the society which provides context.
I may subscribe to the local newspaper, but so do a thousand other people, our subscriptions and advertising giving life to the enterprise. In a few brilliant moments I find my life has not been consciously nurtured, nor has it been self made. It has been a collaborative undertaking in a social network from which I emerged and in which I remain rooted… kind of like the newspaper.
I read an article about the high cost of prescription drugs. The Congress is working to lower the cost of such medicine, yet to date their work has been an utter failure. People are skipping medically necessary prescriptions because of the cost, Megan Leonhardt of CNBC reported. There is another side to this issue.
Over the years I’ve had several conversations with physicians, and now my nurse practitioner, about taking prescription medicine. Just like finding a good auto mechanic or a reliable technician to work on my yard tractor, it is part of a process for living. Every time a medical practitioner suggested a prescription — either to control cholesterol or prevent Type II diabetes — I pushed back.
I have been able to address each diagnosis through behavioral changes coupled with regular visits to the clinic. These physiological conditions may persist, and at some point I may have to accede to medication. Last year I took a small step and began taking a low-dose aspirin in addition to my daily vitamin B-12 tablet. We’ll see how things go during my follow up appointment later this year. My point is when we focus on the failure of our government to properly regulate the pharmaceutical industry we neglect focus on a process for living. Having a process for living is more important than what our government does or doesn’t do.
I feel life in society all around me. Maybe that is a Cartesian outlook, one rooted in my earliest memories of reading at home before breakfast, after being an altar boy for Catholic Mass at the convent. Despite whatever separation I feel in intellectual outlook our future is inseparable from its context. The fate of our society is complexly intertwined. To separate a single strand of it in the form of an individual life, from the broader organism, would be to our mutual detriment.
I don’t understand how we will manage the many challenges we face — environmental degradation, climate change, economic inequality, the threat of conflict, and diminished natural resources. I do know that without a process for living that recognizes the web of life that engendered us, that brought us to this moment, we may not be up to the challenge. Humanity’s well-being will predictably decline. I’m not ready to say it is inevitable. I don’t believe it is.
Yet so much depends on the observations of truck drivers who pay attention to the variability in our lives — and together try to make them better.